Industry makes case for sustaining milling data

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — The quality of U.S. flour production statistics could be seriously compromised if the federal government ceases collection of the data, according to key organizations spanning the entire wheat foods chain.
In a letter to Robert M. Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, the groups said replacing the data with information gathered by a third party group has been explored and likely would not be as complete as the government statistics and could raise questions about the confidentiality of the individual company information that is gathered.

The letter to Mr. Groves was signed by Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association; Dana Peterson, c.e.o. of the National Association of Wheat Growers; and Mary Waters, president of the North American Millers’ Association.

“We are writing to ask the administration to keep the program that produces the NAMA-funded ‘Flour Milling Report’ in the fiscal year 2012 budget,” the groups said. “Millers, producers, bakers, along with private and public economists, use the ‘Flour Milling Report’ to measure flour consumption in the U.S. It is the only report of its kind in the flour milling industry.”

The groups noted that NAMA provides financial support for the quarterly data but that the administration has proposed eliminating the Current Industrial Report program that generates the report.

Explaining their concerns about third party data gathering as an alternative to the Census reports, the groups warned that such an effort would be “hindered by volunteer compliance.”

“Under current law, as long as the U.S. Census Bureau is collecting the data, companies are required by law to provide the data,” the groups said. “Mandatory compliance provides higher quality data and better information is circulated to the public.”

Regarding confidentiality, the letter noted that the law explicitly required the data “shall be used only for the statistical purposes for which it is supplied.”

“In conclusion, NAMA is committed to continued funding for the Census Bureau data collection of the ‘Flour Milling Report’ and sharing the report with the public,” the groups said. “We ask the Census Bureau continue to collect the data for us to guarantee participation and to protect the proprietary data collected.”

In addition to the letter to Mr. Groves, Ms. Waters sent a brief letter to Joseph Glaubert, chief economist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is the U.S.D.A. that takes the Census data to arrive at a number of estimates, including per capita use of flour and annual food use of flour.

“Any assistance you could provide in maintaining public access to this important information will be greatly appreciated,” she wrote to Mr. Glaubert.

Late last week Ms. Waters said she has been meeting with staff members of key congressional leaders from farming and milling states to seek their support. The Department of Commerce earlier this year signed a memorandum of understanding with NAMA to gather the data from November 2010 to November of this year.
Plans to end funding for the C.I.R. reports were disclosed in President Obama’s 2012 budget. The Census Bureau has gathered data on flour milling products since 1923.

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